Friday, August 15, 2008

US: Prison Numbers Hit New High

Blacks Hardest Hit by Incarceration Policy
Washington, DC, June 6, 2008) – New figures showing that US incarceration rates are climbing even higher, with racial minorities greatly overrepresented in prisons and jails, highlight the need to adopt alternative criminal justice policies, Human Rights Watch said today.

The new incarceration figures confirm the United States as the world’s leading jailer. Americans should ask why the US locks up so many more people than do Canada, Britain, and other democracies.
David Fathi, US Program director

Statistics released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a branch of the US Department of Justice, show that as of June 30, 2007, approximately 2.3 million persons were incarcerated in US prisons and jails, an all-time high. This represents an incarceration rate of 762 per 100,000 US residents, the highest such rate in the world. By contrast, the United Kingdom’s incarceration rate is 152 per 100,000 residents; the rate in Canada is 108; and in France it is 91.

“The new incarceration figures confirm the United States as the world’s leading jailer,” said David Fathi, US Program director at Human Rights Watch. “Americans should ask why the US locks up so many more people than do Canada, Britain, and other democracies.”

The new statistics also show large racial disparities, with black males incarcerated at a per capita rate six times that of white males. Nearly 11 percent of all black men ages 30 to 34 were behind bars as of June 30, 2007.

In May 2008, Human Rights Watch released its report, “Targeting Blacks: Drug Law Enforcement and Race in the United States,” in which it documented racial disparities in US drug law enforcement, with black men 11.8 times more likely than white men to enter prison on drug charges, despite the fact that blacks and whites use illegal drugs at similar rates. Although whites, being more numerous, constitute the large majority of drug users, blacks constitute 54 percent of all persons entering state prisons with a new drug offense conviction.

“Decisions about drug law enforcement play a major role in creating the staggering racial disparities we see in US prisons,” said Fathi. “The ‘war on drugs’ has become a war on black Americans.”

The US has ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), a treaty that requires the US to guarantee, without distinction as to race, color, or national or ethnic origin, “[t]he right to equal treatment before the tribunals and all other organs administering justice.” In May 2008, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which monitors compliance with ICERD, expressed its “concern with regard to the persistent racial disparities in the criminal justice system of [the United States], including the disproportionate number of persons belonging to racial, ethnic and national minorities in the prison population.” The committee called on the United States to undertake “further studies to determine the nature and scope of the problem, and the implementation of national strategies or plans of action aimed at the elimination of structural racial discrimination.”

Human Rights Watch urges public officials in the United States to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses and to adopt community-based sanctions and other alternatives to incarceration for low-level drug offenders. Human Rights Watch further calls on the United States to enact legislation that, in accordance with ICERD, prohibits policies or practices in the criminal justice system that have the purpose or effect of restricting the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on the basis of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin.

Illegal immigration problem not fixed

The illegal immigration problem hasn’t been solved. The borders remain open because the administration doesn’t want to close them. Open borders go hand in hand with plans for a North American Union. Closing them is inconsistent with “integrating” Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Americans were rightly angered early in 2006 when hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, many obviously here illegally, clogged streets of major cities, waved Mexican flags, demanded favors from government, and trashed the Stars and Stripes.

Two separate examples of this type of arrogance roused many into demanding action to stop the flood of illegal immigrants. Their demands succeeded in forcing President Bush to address the nation about the problem on May 15, 2006.

In his speech, Mr. Bush made six major pledges:

1) fix the illegal immigration problem

2) control the border

3) create technological border security

4) add National Guard forces to aid the understaffed Border Patrol

5) confront drug traffic and other crimes resulting from illegal immigration, and

6) oppose amnesty for all the illegal border crossers. His performance on that occasion had to be one of the most dishonest ever given by an American chief executive.

The illegal immigrant problem hasn’t been fixed and the border is not controlled. Some National Guard troops were sent into the area near, but not at, the border. Drug traffic and crime caused by illegal immigrants continue. And the president strongly supported the McCain-Kennedy comprehensive immigration measure that went to defeat in 2007 because it was correctly perceived to be an amnesty program in disguise.

What about the promised technological border security measures? It turns out that Boeing was awarded a contract to produce was has been called a “virtual fence” along 28 miles of the Mexican border south of Tucson, Arizona. After much hoopla, it turns out the project doesn’t work. Its network of sensors situated in high towers with electronic surveillance equipment, radar, cameras and special vehicles equipped with computers and fancy telephones must be completely redesigned. From an announced target date for completion before the end of Mr. Bush’s term in office, the project is not expected to be operational for at least three more years.

Boeing was originally given $20.6 million for the project. As recently as last December, the Department of Homeland Security sent $65 million more to the Seattle-based aircraft manufacturer. Homeland Security officials have now taken over the project which will cost additional hundreds of millions of dollars.

So, the border remains nearly as porous as ever. Each of Mr. Bush’s promises and grandiose plans to deal with the situation have not been delivered.

As one result, throughout the United States, local and state officials have taken the matter of illegal immigrants into their own hands by passing measures restricting the hiring and housing of illegal immigrants.

There is one step that would greatly ease the illegal immigration problem, if not end it completely. All that’s needed is to put a stop to providing a variety of taxpayer-supplied benefits to those who have broken the law to come here. No more education, medical care, food, housing, etc.

No more anchor babies who are then cited as legal justification for family members to be here. Let those who aspire to live and work in the United States aspire to complete the process of legal immigration.

Until this is done, even a working “virtual fence” won’t solve the problem. Illegal immigration isn’t a virtual problem; it’s very real and it isn’t being addressed meaningfully.

Dr. & Mrs. Mike Ritze, Broken Arrow